Jeffco Ballot Measures Pass With Slim Margin and What It Means for Our Schools


Coleman Erickson, Staff Writer

Elections! School funding! Mills and bonds! Do I have your attention now? Even if I don’t, you might like to hear about this.

This last November, Coloradans showed up to the polls in record numbers, with 73 percent of Jefferson County voters turning out. Two measures stood out, being the only two for the school district. Measures 5A and 5B were passed by the Board of Education back in September to be put on the November Ballot.

Superintendent Jason Glass acknowledges these types of measures are legal jargon for taxes, but goes on to specify how they will be used, “I realize others may feel differently, but I believe our primary goal is to provide a broader spectrum of early education supports with these funds. With that said, we are looking at the kinder[garden] fee issue as a factor, while also watching what Governor-elect Polis may do, who made funding full day Kinder[garden] a campaign issue.”

These measures include tax increases and capital bonds. The collected taxes will go towards both 5A and 5B, with 5B asking for significantly more. The mill levy 5A is a general funding measure to go to school programs and the staff that teach them. This is books, supplies, teacher salaries, and more.

Wheat Ridge High School has been one of the oldest high schools in Jeffco Schools for some time, and has been slated for improvements that have been slow coming. With what 5B is promising, Principal Josh Cooley has plans for what will be going on. “We are slated to get a number of improvements to the interior… We are even supposed to be getting a new track.”

He went on to add, “We are grateful to the voters for pushing this one through. We know what we are generally going to be doing, but as far has how much money and when we’re getting it, we are not sure.”

5B, the one that will fund all of these improvements, is the large one that almost didn’t pass. This one is talking $567 million in capital bonds. This fancy phrase refers to money the district will borrow and add to the debt. The money will be paid back through the collection of property taxes, just like 5A.

The difference between the two is three-fold. The capital bond will be money available right away to go towards the improvement and even construction of schools, money being paid back through taxes that will end as soon as it is payed off, where 5A will go straight to the district as a continuing tax to be used for regular upkeep and programs. Lastly is money. 5A’s $33 million is miniscule compared to 5B’s multi-hundred million dollar cost.

A large issue with the 5B measure is it is likely to cost the taxpayer close to a million dollars to repay. That comes out to twice as much annually than 5A’s total amount.

After the votes came in, there was still about a week of back and forth. It was clear that 5A had passed, a big win for teachers, but the other measure was clogged up in counting. 5B was the closest, separated by less than 1,500 votes.

Social Studies teacher Stephie Rossi had a lot to say on the matter, “I did support them because I am a teacher, and I know how short school districts are on state founding. Many of the buildings in Jeffco are very very old. Wheat Ridge is a prime example of that.” 5B promises to bring more attention to the maintenance needs of the aging school structures in the district.

Rossi also brings up pieces of the teachers’ march and movements: “Colorado’s teachers are, I think are 47th or 46th in salaries in the United States. You might want to check that statistic.” This was a major issue, and a divisive factor with multiple holes. Her statistic wasn’t far off, conservative estimates put Colorado about 30th. Rossi goes on to elaborate other issues that lead towards walkouts and protests.

“I don’t think the public understands what the founding mechanisms in Colorado have done to school funding” she adds. This speaks to a larger issue of an uneducated populus, which has also been a big topic this election. With tax increases as part of this bill, it is easy to understand why many people were put off by these measures.

Rossi has been following these issues for some time, “There’s a series of issues and amendments that have been passed and added to the state constitution that change the way property taxes are collected and distributed, and the methods that are used to figure them out. So funding has dropped dramatically in the last 20 years.”

Taxes have been far from a light issue in the state of Colorado since the 1990s. Recently, more and more teachers have pointed to changes to the state constitution as reasons for reform. These groups believe tax reforms of the past have negatively affected our schools.

“My career future is short lived… but more importantly how does it affect the career futures of teachers that are going to be here longer.” Rossi talks about the importance 5A has on the future of Jeffco schools. The money allocated isn’t a temporary fix, but an outline for how it will be allotted in the future.

With this shared hope from up top and on the ground floor, what remains to be seen is how our school will see the benefits from 5B. As she touched on earlier, this is the oldest high school structure in the county.